Fleetwood Mac are just one of those bands. They have an incredible reputation with pretty much all the big music communities, and even the coolest of kids respect their music. This week I’ll be discussing their most famous (if not their best) album, Rumours. Following the huge success of their tenth eponymous album, the pressure was on them for their next release; luckily they didn’t crack. Sometimes with this column I feel like I’m just gushing pointlessly over these albums, as I never really say anything against them. So I tried to look at Rumours objectively, but I still don’t really have a bad word to say about it. Even though in some ways it’s very 70s, as a whole it doesn’t feel dated, and I massively enjoyed listening to it.
While I’m very familiar with almost all the songs, and certainly all the singles from this record (who hasn’t heard The Chain or Dreams?), I’ve never sat and listened to it start to finish. I really wish I had before now. The album itself is like a patchwork quilt of different styles and influences, but unlike so many albums that feel forced and incohesive, Rumors ebbs and flows through the different moods effortlessly, taking the listener along with it. While the genres etc. encapsulated within the album differ, there is a thread of mistrust, lies and rumours that can be traced throughout. This isn’t surprising, as the emotional breakdowns behind this album are almost as famous as the tracks.
For those of you who don’t know, I’ll summarise. The line up of the band at the time Rumours was released was as follows: Mick Fleetwood, Lindsey Buckingham, Stevie Nicks, and John and Christine McVie. The latter pair were married, but separated after eight years, just before this album was written. Buckingham and Nicks were also apparently on and off lovers, which led to massive arguments. Mick Fleetwood found out his partner and the mother of his children was sleeping with his best friend. All in all, not a happy bunch. Thankfully, they channelled this into an album that is oozing with emotion, anger and sadness, but still remarkably has some (what I would call) cheerful songs.
First track on the album, Second Hand News, for example, is incredibly upbeat, and if it weren’t for the lyrics – which are about being left for someone else – it would be quite the uplifting tune. Personally, I’m a sucker for a sad song hidden in the music of a happy one, so I love this track. What stood out to me on the first full listen to this album was the stark difference between Second Hand News and the last track Gold Dust Woman. This song, which isn’t dissimilar in the theme of the lyrics, is dark and moody, slower in pace and more sultry thanks to Nicks’ voice. There’s also a sense of an omniscient voice in the song, who talks directly to this femme fatale, the Gold Dust Woman, and then asks her conquest “Did she make you break down / Shatter your illusion of love?” With intense drums, what I can only describe as howling, and sparse, almost country guitar twanging, this song means serious business.
Both of these atmospheres are a million miles away from the stark, heart breaking and frankly excellent Songbird. I first came across the Eva Cassidy version of this song years and years ago, which isn’t surprising seeing as her posthumous release went to #1. Little did I know then that it was actually a Fleetwood Mac track, or that the original is just as good. If I’m being honest, Songbird is one of those songs I don’t want to like, but can’t help tearing up to at times. Situated in the absolute middle of this album, where there is so much tension funnelled into raucous freight trains of songs or the dark, moodier tracks, Songbird makes even more of an impact. It’s like any pretense is dropped away, with Mcvie’s vocals and the lyrics (“I wish you all the love in the world but most of all I wish it for myself”) making the whole track feels like complete honesty. I honestly don’t think there are any tracks on this album which drag it down, even though I was looking for them. Even my least favourite, Dreams, is a good song even if it’s not quite to my taste.
All in all, I’m glad I actually listened to this album the way it was made to be heard. Although I knew and loved the majority of tracks alone, as part of this emotionally tumultuous collection they get a new life. With the risk of sounding like a terrible human being, I’m quite glad that there was so much angst in their lives that they could channel into this record. Here’s hoping for a few more arguments on their reunion tour.